I’ve been thinking alot lately about the purpose of suffering. In today’s world, we have “advanced” everything, including advanced pain avoidance. We can avoid pain and suffering in hundreds of ways (from entertainments to numbing drugs). We have our best and brightest minds getting Phds and writing books on how to avoid and remove it.
But how is the Christian to respond to suffering?? For a long time, I instinctively agreed suffering was to be avoided at all cost. Run from suffering and anything that is painful was my life’s motto.
But as I’ve been talking recently with my friend Thomas, he’s given me a whole new perspective. You see Thomas sees all of life as suffering. He keeps reminding me that Jesus said, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow Jesus.” If that’s not a recipe for suffering I don’t know what is. First, it is always painful to “deny self.” Even the most humble among us find denying self to be the most painful means of living. Comfort is having my way. Suffering then is anything or anyone who does not promote my having my way. Secondly, taking up crosses is never fun in the moment. Jesus knew his command meant pain and suffering. When Jesus commanded his followers to take up their cross, he was saying, “My kingdom is a road of suffering, with rewards later.” That was Jesus experience with the cross: indescribable pain now; infinite reward later. So, when Jesus commands us to take up our cross, we shouldn’t water it down to mere word play. Jesus said you must suffer for me.
21st century American Christians squirm at this verse, because it reveals how ingrained our culture’s comfort-worship has invaded our lives. I read alot of books by really old dead people. Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Thomas A Kempis, St. John of the Cross, and Andrew Murray to mention a few. Almost all of them focus most of their writings on how to grow in Christ. If you got them all in a room, I think they all would tell you horrible personal stories of suffering. Each of them could have you weeping at their pain and loss in life. And each of them, would point to these sufferings as the means of their intimate relationship with Christ. Each would tell of how they turned to Christ and depended on his comfort over the world’s comforts. Each of them would call suffering a necessary evil for the Christian.
I come away from this scared and confused. What does this say about my relationship with Christ. My suffering has been minimal and my comfort has been high. Many days fly by and I have not depended on Christ. And I have not suffered. Is their a path to intimacy with Christ that avoids all suffering?? If there is, I haven’t found it. Perhaps one of the should-be sufferings of the church today is living in the world, but not being in love with the world’s toys. No one will be bragging in heaven about how comfortable their life on Earth was. No one will be talking about video games. Movie trivia will not be big. I fear comfort may equal shame in glory.